… Calls on constituents to be patient and understand that the legislative process is slow
… Says legislators can only lobby and pass laws but it is up to executive to implement
… Says youth should buckle down and not wait for hand outs
By Ndu Chris Nwannah, ATM Guest Writer and Emeka Ral
Amid the roiling reality of security and economic anxieties in the South East of Nigeria and beyond, the member representing Awka North and South federal constituency at the National Assembly, Hon. Engr. Samuel Chinedu Onwuaso, has issued a message asking “Christians to be contented in life”, “to embrace love and imbibe the virtues of unity, peace and contentment”, and “to embark on prayers to enable the nation to overcome the security, economic and other social challenges confronting it”. Hon. Onwuaso says love and peace are critical ingredients in effective Christian worship, and he wants the faithful to embark on actions that would bring greater unity to the nation.
Hon. Onwuaso, who was elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the 9th National Assembly inaugurated on 11 June 2019, stated this in a message for the 2020 Christian Lenten Season which began with Ash Wednesday on 26 February.
Ash Wednesday is established in Christian liturgical calendar as the first day of the 40-day period of fast culminating in the Holy Week, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is believed by Christians that the resurrection of Christ gave believers victory over the devil and his agents.
In his message, which was released by the legislator’s media office, Hon. Onwuaso also underscored the need for Christians to be contented in life.
“Hon. Engr. Sam Chinedu Onwuaso, MHR, has called on Christians all over Nigeria to embrace love and imbibe the virtues of unity, peace and contentment in our quest for survival and steady interactions with one another,” the statement said.
Hon. Onwuaso urged Christians from his constituency to embark on prayers to enable the nation to overcome security, economic and other social challenges confronting it. He asked for God’s intervention to solve the issues affecting the country.
According to the statement, “the federal lawmaker urged Christians from his constituency and Nigerians at large to utilize this season of prayers, fasting and alms-giving to remember our country – which is currently in distress owing to the rate of killings, hardships, economic and political instability that are retarding our growth and development as a nation – in prayers and ask God for his divine intervention, healing and mercy.”
In response to questions from Awka Times, Hon. Onwuaso said the issue of security “is rested upon the state governors and the presidency.” He said that as a lawmaker, he has “expressed the anxiety of our people on insecurity using motions and sensitive discussions while waiting [on] the [state] executives to put into action all our unanimous decisions irrespective of party affiliations.”
Onwuaso prayed for a successful Lenten Season among the faithful and, according to the media statement, wishes “the Christian faithful a spirit-filled and successful Lenten Season.”
▲ Hon. Engr. Onwuaso
Earlier, Awka Times had met with Hon. Samuel Onwuaso in Abuja for a wide-ranging interview. The exclusive interview with the engineer, industrialist and first-term legislator, was conducted by Awka Times editor, Emeka Ral. It is presented below, edited for length and clarity.
Awka Times Magazine (ATM): What informed your journey from business to politics?
Engr. Sam Chinedu Onwuaso (ESCO): Just like in every society where you are watching from the sidelines, you might notice that there are certain things you could do differently if you were in the play. So that was the first point of attraction: knowing that, from the wealth of experiences one has gained serving the public as an industrialist, you have seen a lot of things that could be done right if you have the opportunity. I thought if I am there, I will be able to help in forming policies. I will be able to help in bringing laws that will favor the development of industries [and] make life better for my people.
ATM: In Anambra State, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) is the ruling party in the state. In fact, some consider it an Igbo party. What made you choose the PDP instead?
ESCO: Well, the politics of today has so much advanced that there are certain sentiments that will not carry the wave. If it were as in the past elections, you might [think] that APGA [being] an “Igbo” party would influence where people voted. But our people have seen that the essence of politics is to bring on board people who will perform. Party is just a platform. It is the person – his capacity – that does the job… I think it will be a better platform… if people are voted based on their capacity and not the party [to which] they belong.
ATM: You are in the House of Reps already. How are you settling down, being a new legislator? We are aware that you were not able to gain the chairmanship of any Committee. Is this likely to affect your performance?
ESCO: Well, for a first-timer, it is not easy settling down because you have to learn a lot… It is not expected that the moment you come in, you enter into legislation and then start creating impact within that period – except you have a magic [wand]! But by the time you come to the chambers and discover that people are already putting up motions, you will be forced to do all that which is a part of the settling down.
ATM: With regards to the committee membership and chairmanship, how does it affect your office?
ESCO: If you look at the number of committees in the House of Reps, presently it stands at 209 or thereabouts. We have 360 members of the House of Reps. This 209 includes both the chairmanship and the deputy chairmanship. Now I am of PDP and also a first-timer, so I’m in opposition; we are in the minority. The total members of the House of Reps from the ruling party is about 220 or thereabouts. So, even if the ruling party has divided these committees, the 220 will not all get chairmanship and deputy chairmanship. So I said let it be that I am among those who didn’t get the chairmanship or deputy chairmanship. But surely there is no way any member will not belong in a committee and the impact you give in that committee depends on that individual. It doesn’t matter who the chairman is. The chairman might not know certain things. It would be a member who will step up to help the chairman. So the effectiveness of the committee rests on the people that constitute the membership. It does not rest solely on the chairman or the deputy chairman. So how effective you are in a committee depends on what you have…
ATM: But in a country like Nigeria where most decisions are taken or influenced by heads of committees, it is possible that constituencies whose members make up chairmen and deputy chairmen…
ESCO: It is an added advantage… But it doesn’t solely dictate the level to which [one can perform]. If it is a committee that’s properly constituted and the chairman wants to carry the members along, I think every member will contribute his or her quota.
ATM: You’re already in the House. What are the core areas you may wish to focus on?
ESCO: Every member of the House of Reps is concerned with security and economic issues. I don’t think there is anybody in this country who is not talking about employment, how to bring down the youth restiveness, banditry, kidnapping. Those are the major factors that are before us today and that will be the core concern for me especially where I have people in Awka North and South. In Awka as you know, the cult killings and political whatever, youths being used for all those things, and then you go to Awka North and find that most women cannot even access their farms because of Fulani herdsmen or whatever name that is given to them… bandits. So all those things are my concerns.
ATM: The Nigerian legislative business [focuses a lot on so-called] constituency projects. How effective do you intend to be, given that over the years not much of such has been seen in your constituency?
ESCO: I’m sorry I will not talk for the past leaders. Everybody has his approach and his mission. But my representation will be transparent. At least we will be able to show you what we have been able to bring in as our constituency projects. We will train and empower people, carry out little constructions that the amount [we receive] can carry. There is always a specified amount. Most times people look for things from members of the House of Reps, they assume that there are certain projects that members are supposed to execute forgetting that apart from the constituency projects – we call it zonal intervention – we don’t have any other point to show apart from lobbying and begging based on the contacts you made. The whole thing is rested on the ministries. Our own duty is to send certain things to the ministries informing them that our people need certain things.
▲ Hon. Engr. Onwuaso
ATM: What [budgetary] measures do you hope to [focus on that will benefit] the people of Awka North and South Constituency, and how will you ensure that the budgetary provisions are executed?
ESCO: Well, I have three duties as the legislator: Oversight duties, legislative duties… but within that arm of the three functions, it is within our powers to suggest to the executive that these things are supposed to be tackled to enable the people we are representing function economically, [to secure their] livelihood and every other thing. But just as you are proposing those things, you also understand that it is a budget. There are specific situations under which a budget is constituted. If those conditions are in any way not [met], then you have a budget [shortfall]. The budget is only a direction given to the government, telling the government what we want to achieve under certain conditions, all things being equal. So in a situation where all things are not equal, that is where you see budget proposals fail. If monies allocated are not there, the proposals will not be executed. You can see that the intention is already stated in the budget. We want to achieve this, but because the money is not there, it is not achievable. But nothing stops the same thing to reoccur in subsequent budgets because it is still a need that has to be tackled. That is why you can see some things [repeatedly] proposed… until that need is met. Do you know how many times the second Niger bridge has come up in the budget? Until it is tackled, it will continue to be in the budget.
ATM: But, Sir, there is this notion that while budgetary provisions for some sections of the country are usually funded to a reasonable extent the provisions for other areas [are not always faithfully funded]. Some attribute such budgetary failures, among other things, to the inability of the legislators representing those areas to do the necessary lobbying. How true is this?
ESCO: I don’t think you are right to lay the blame on the legislators. Our duty is not to execute projects. Our duty is not to raise funds. Our duty is to propose to the authorities that this is what should be done in our localities. When you propose it, as long as it is already in the budget, you have done the lobbying. The budget is a law. That’s why it goes for appropriations.
ATM: If budget is a law but not implemented, is it justiciable, can people be brought to book for failing to implement the law?
ESCO: You as an individual have the right to go to court. If the legislators have done their duty to place an item or proposal and lobbied to make sure that it comes out in the budget, then it rests on the executives to implement the budget. It does not rest on the legislator to make sure that the project is executed… So you as an individual have the right to question when a budget is not implemented.
It is a very sensitive issue you have raised but I will stand to still tell you that every government has their priorities and we are pushing to make sure that whatever that would come to our constituency will get to us. It is a push, that’s why you see us make efforts to place items in the budgets to present the needs of our people. Let’s reflect on this issue. Recently, we discovered that tertiary institutions in Anambra State (both state and federal) have not been accessing money from TET-FUND for some years now. One issue is that some of them require some level of accreditation. So if the state has gone through the trouble of building an institution, why won’t you fight for it to be accredited so that [it can get] access to funds? Not only that, those ones accessed, what level has it being executed? There are projects in which the fund has been made available for the past eight to twelve years which the money has not been accounted for. You see, is not only pushing for such projects from the federal House of Reps or Senate but from where it is sent to, what level of execution? Where is the money? If you don’t execute the project, you can’t access more. I am being particular about this TET-FUND issue because it has been a lot of worry for us. We have over ₦6 billion tied down in TET-FUND meant for our schools in Anambra State. It remains inaccessible because they can neither get accredited nor account for the previous ones. It is a thing of worry to us and you can’t blame the member of the House of Representatives for that.
ATM: There is this discord among the communities in Awka North and South which prevents them from maximizing the allocations and other political benefits they get vis-à-vis other constituencies. This is also tied to the issue of governorship zoning which appears to be accepted in public perception. How can these communities which make up your constituency forge a better accord?
ESCO: Is there actually any political zoning in Anambra State? You should bear in mind that for a long time, the party APGA has been in the position of producing governors in Anambra State. Every party has its manifesto. Apart from that, one party’s decision will not affect what the other party says. So if the perception is based on the table of events as it is in APGA, well I don’t think it will affect the decision of any other political party…
ATM: So in effect your party, PDP, does not consent to the idea of governorship zoning?
ESCO: PDP has never come on board to say that they have zoned. They have not. PDP has never in any way discussed zoning as a factor as it stands now in the politics of Anambra State. But just like you said – the perception is like this – I will tell you that it might still be the same perception that is coming across Awka North and South federal constituency. Before my emergence, PDP asked the people of Awka North to bring a candidate. But after searching nobody came out. Should PDP now insist that anybody as long as he comes from Awka North must be the candidate? What I am bringing on board is, even with the so-called perception, will we now be subjected to mediocrity or should we choose someone who will do a good job?… You see, the joy of democracy is that it gives you the opportunity to [identify] the candidate preferred by the masses. So if presently we are tagging the same situation in the coming governorship election in Anambra State, will you say simply because the perception is that the candidate must come from the South and then you bring on board a candidate that is not preferred by Anambrarians? My brother, you will be cheating the masses!
I stand to criticize any bad person in the office. Presently we are not having it right at the level of Anambra State government. So we are asking our brothers in Anambra State that what we want is the best person to do the job irrespective of where he comes from. Anambra State is not a divided state. Anybody bringing this issue [of zoning] is trying to draw the hands of the clock back, farther back because we are already 50 years behind. Go to Ebonyi. Ebonyi is the story of the whole country. Same people [back then] who would come to us looking for what to do. Today, you go to Ebonyi and you will see development because the man on board has a sense of direction. He knows where he is going and this is lacking in Anambra State. Quote me. Tell them that I said it.
ATM: Let’s turn to youth involvement in politics. Are you interested in ensuring that younger people who have something to offer emerge into governance?
ESCO: Nobody gives you powers. Powers have never been given. It depends on the youth. If we as Nigerians voted somebody who is above 75 years going to 80 years, where are the youths? Where is the will to change things? So nobody will call the youths and give them powers, the youths have to come out. So me telling you that I will make sure that power will go to the youths, it is as good as giving you a vain promise. Anybody who is interested should come out, just like I came out… Our past leaders were very young. Talk of the old military leaders (Gowon and others), they were able to keep the command of whatever that was given to them. So why are the youths of today waiting to be fifty or seventy before they come on board?
ATM: Any parting words as we round off the interview?
ESCO: I have three things to ask of you people, the people of Awka North and South Federal Constituency. The first is that you should please be patient with us. Legislative duties are not like in an executive office. Expectations are so wild and big that it is not something the office of a legislator can accommodate. The office of the legislator has no budget. It is only through lobbying, research and speaking the voice of the people you are representing that you can make an impact. Beyond that three, any other thing added is just the extra mile but it is not part of it.
Secondly, we have discovered recently that the youths… will easily lie on the beds, bring out their phones simply because they have some data and then start writing things without research. I want to plead with you all that before anybody can write anything, let him/her do proper research. If you back your position with research and not hearsay, it will bring a lot of progress because anything you are writing will be a form of platform for future research. It will influence the next action. But if you write on hearsay, meant only to castigate, meant only to throw mud on any of the legislators, you are doing yourself more harm than good. So it is good to do proper research before mudslinging.
Thirdly, the present day Nigeria is not like before. The economy and security are not really working according to plan. I will implore my constituents to be ready to get trained in any other thing, maybe in handiwork or other crafts because that is where the country is going now. If you have something doing, the government will be able to come up and empower you. The time has gone when a young woman will stay at home and be begging for money from anybody. No matter how much you are given today, it still won’t be enough to carry you along. But if you have something doing and you are empowered, it will go a long way. So most of the things we will [focus on] will be how to empower the young men and women of Awka North and South. Nobody is ready to share money.